Senate Democrats Unveil Climate Change Bill

Senate Democrats unveil a climate change bill that's being panned by some.

September 30, 2009, 2:01 PM

Sept. 30, 2009— -- New Senate legislation on climate change is being both panned and praised for its stringent requirements on greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., calls for a 20 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The measure is significantly stronger than what both President Obama has proposed and a House bill, which calls for a 17 percent cut in emissions during the same time period.

Companies would have to purchase vouchers, or the right-to-pollute vouchers, while they transition to cleaner energy. If a company needs more time to clean up its carbon pollution, it can pay for the right to keep polluting. The 800-page bill also calls for investments in clean energy technology, energy infrastructure, nuclear power research and development and green energy development.

Proponents of the bill say it's about much more than just hazardous gases.

"This is really about America's security. It's about our economic security, our energy security and our national security," Kerry said at a rally on Capitol Hill today, before unveiling the bill to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "We need to respond to it [the national security threat of climate change]. Our economic future depends on it."

The legislation has been praised by environmental and labor groups.

Obama, who has pushed for a 14 percent cut in emissions, also praised the senators' work in addressing "this urgent challenge."

"With the draft legislation they are announcing today, we are one step closer to putting America in control of our energy future and making America more energy independent," Obama said in a written statement. "My administration is deeply committed to passing a bill that creates new American jobs and the clean energy incentives that foster innovation."

But many are questioning whether the bill does enough to curb pollution and curb other dangerous gases. Some groups, like the Alliance for Jobs and Affordable Energy (AJAE), say it will push up energy costs significantly. Others say instead of creating employment, as senators supporting the bill say it will, the legislation will actually hurt economic growth and cost many Americans their jobs.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, panned the Democrats' plan.

"The national energy tax was a terrible idea when it passed the House, and it is an even worse idea now," Boehner said in a written statement. "Middle-class families and small businesses struggling to make ends meet shouldn't be punished with costly legislation that will increase electricity bills, raise gasoline prices and ship more American jobs overseas."

In a letter released yesterday, the top Republican on the committee, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., wrote that the bill "lacks a formula to determine the allocation of emission allowances. Leaving out these and other key provisions makes it impossible to get an objective estimate of the economic impacts of your bill on consumers."

World Watching U.S. Commitment

The world is closely watching whether the United States can keep its commitment on curbing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants. The United States has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for a worldwide cut in greenhouse gas emissions, and has been hesitant to sign off on a worldwide climate treaty. The United States is the largest source of petroleum-related carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

President Obama put climate change at the top of his agenda at the United Nations General Assembly gathering and the G-20 Summits last week. Touting the United States' investment in clean energy and green technology, he called on world leaders of both the developed world and developing countries to do their part in meeting this challenge.

"It is work that will not be easy," the president said Sept. 22 at the U.N. Climate Change Summit. "We seek sweeping but necessary change in the midst of a global recession, where every nation's most immediate priority is reviving their economy and putting their people back to work. And so, all of us will face doubts and difficulties in our own capitals as we try to reach a lasting solution to the climate challenge. But difficulty is no excuse for complacency. Unease is no excuse for inaction."

The future of the Senate's Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Bill remains to be seen. Supporters will need 60 votes for the bill to pass, after which it will go to Obama's hands.

As to when the administration would like to see the bill pass, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was non-committal today, except to say, "As soon as it can get passed."

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